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Favorite Mac Gems of 2012

o Dan Frakes
28.12.2012 kl 16:02 |

For Macworld editors, the end of the calendar year means more than just holiday vacations and the passing of yet another end-of-the-world prediction. It's also the season of awards. Over the past couple weeks, we've given you our 2012 Editors' Choice Awards, for the best Mac products of the year, and our 2012 App Gems Awards, for the best iOS apps of the year. Here at Mac Gems HQ, we have no official awards with fancy trophies, but every year I pick my favorite Mac Gems of the previous 12 months--the best inexpensive-but-good apps we covered over the previous year.


For Macworld editors, the end of the calendar year means more than just holiday vacations and the passing of yet another end-of-the-world prediction. It's also the season of awards. Over the past couple weeks, we've given you our 2012 Editors' Choice Awards, for the best Mac products of the year, and our 2012 App Gems Awards, for the best iOS apps of the year. Here at Mac Gems HQ, we have no official awards with fancy trophies, but every year I pick my favorite Mac Gems of the previous 12 months--the best inexpensive-but-good apps we covered over the previous year.

Unlike with the Eddies and App Gems, the "Gems Of The Year," if you will, weren't chosen by committee. Rather, they were hand-picked by me from among the over 100 Gems we mined during 2012. (To be eligible for Mac Gems, a product must be priced at $35 or less and earn a 3.5-mouse rating or higher.) They also aren't necessarily the Mac Gems that earned the highest ratings. Instead, they're the apps that I felt did something new and innovative; offered exceptional value; improved productivity above and beyond other apps; or ended up being used--by me or a fellow Macworld editor--over and over. These inexpensive applications and add-ons will help you get the most out of your Mac without blowing your budget.

Eddy-winning Gem

It's not uncommon for a standout Gem to also be picked by the Macworld editorial staff for an Editors' Choice (Eddy) Award. This year, there was one such Gem:

Tweetbot for Mac (; $20; website): As my colleague Lex Friedman put it: "You can find numerous great Twitter apps for the Mac, but Tweetbot earns this Eddy because of its cleverly implemented approach to bringing an iOS app to the Mac. The app will feel familiar to anyone who has used its iOS counterparts, but it still embraces the fact that it is running on [OS X] instead."

(Note that NetSpot 2, another Mac Gem, also received an Eddy award this year. However, we reviewed NetSpot in late November, 2011--while the Eddy awards are based on a November-to-November year, my best-Gems-of-the-year list is based on the calendar year, so NetSpot earned a place on my Favorite Mac Gems of 2011 list.)

The list

Of the 100+ other Gems we reviewed this past year, these eleven rounded out my dozen favorites:

Bartender (; $15; website): As more and more apps and utilities offer options for, or are accessible only via, systemwide menu-bar icons, the right-hand side of the menu bar has become ever more crowded. Bartender comes to the rescue by giving you a secondary bar--one that appears just below the menu bar and only when you want it to--for hosting those menus you don't need to see all the time. (You can show Bartender's bar using the pointer or a keyboard shortcut.) If a particular menu displays information, you can configure Bartender to show that menu briefly each time it updates, and then hide it until the next update. One of my favorite features is that Bartender lets you rearrange all the systemwide menu icons, not just the stock OS X ones, and you can hide the Notification Center and Spotlight menu icons without losing access to those features.

Clarify (; $30): If you ever need to create how-to documentation or instructions, Clarify makes it easy to take a sequence of screenshots and turn them into an annotated document. Compared to creating the same types of images and documents in Word, Pages, or TextEdit, Clarify is dramatically easier and faster, and it produces better-looking results.

Fission 2 (; $32; website): This big update to Rogue Amoeba's easy-to-use, lossless audio editor makes it simpler than ever to trim songs, splice tracks, tweak voice recordings, fade tracks in or out, and create ringtones without altering the quality of the original file. Compared to version 1, Fission 2 offers an improved interface; better performance; support for FLAC; and conversion to and from AAC, MP3, AIFF, WAV, FLAC, and Apple Lossless formats. It also now lets you open multiple editing windows simultaneously, it can save enhanced (chapterized) AAC files for podcasting, and it offers instant uploading to SoundCloud.

FreeSpace (; $1): An early version of this menu-bar utility received an honorable mention in last year's list of favorite Gems, but a number of recent updates earned it a solid place on my 2012 list. FreeSpace's systemwide menu shows all mounted volumes along with the available free space on each; if there's a particular volume you want to monitor, you can choose to have that volume's free space displayed right in the menu bar. But FreeSpace also makes it easy to open or eject any volume--features I use dozens of times each day--and the utility can notify you whenever any volume's free space drops below a certain threshold.

Hazel 3 (; $25; website): Dan Miller first reviewed Hazel 2 back in 2010, but it was Hazel 3 that really impressed him. For those of us still wedded to the file-and-folder approach to organizing our data, Hazel helps automate many of the tedious tasks associated with putting stuff where we ultimately want it. The utility monitors folders on your events for events that you define--a file being added or modified, for example--and then automatically performs actions that you've chosen, such as moving the file to another folder, renaming it, or changing its label. Hazel 3 offers nested conditions, interface improvements, new criteria for matching (including AppleScript and shell-script results, additional file attributes, and the current time), better tools for matching patterns, and a number of new actions.

Lion DiskMaker (; payment requested; website): I first covered this little AppleScript-based utility back in May, before OS X 10.8 Mountain Lion was released. At the time, it offered a simple way to make a bootable Lion (OS X 10.7) install drive from the original Lion installer. Since then, Lion DiskMaker has been updated a number of times, and it can now make a bootable Mountain Lion install drive from the Mountain Lion installer. It's also gained some new features, including a cleaner interface, a progress bar, improved compatibility with various OS X installer packages and disk images, and better support for DVDs (for those who, against all advice, insist on creating a bootable installer DVD). The interface can still feel a bit klunky, but for sheer usefulness--the number of people who've used our bootable-installer articles is flabbergasting, so clearly there's demand for this type of utility--Lion DiskMaker stands out.

Little Snitch 3 (; $35; website): Another update to a previous Gem, Snitch 3 offers enough significant improvements that it made my list. Like its predecessor, Snitch 3 alerts you to outgoing network connections (noting which app or process is requesting network access, along with what server and port the app is attempting to contact), so you can approve or deny each one on a one-time, time-constrained, or perpetual basis. This feature is useful for detecting malware, as well as for seeing which apps are accessing the network for more than their stated purposes. Version 3 adds an improved network monitor and, most significant the capability to monitor inbound network requests, as well, making it a full-fledged firewall with an interface that doesn't require certification in firewall administration.

MailTags 3 (; $30; website): If you're a heavy user of Mail, MailTags can dramatically improve your email productivity. This Mail add-on lets you assign tags (keywords) to individual messages; you can use those tags in searches and with rules to more easily find filed mail and process incoming messages. But MailTags also lets you assign project names, colors, priorities, and reminders to any email message, and you can even attach notes to messages. Most important, though, is that MailTags integrates elegantly with Mail--once it's installed, you forget that its features aren't just a normal part of Mail.

Marked (; $4; website): Marked isn't for everyone; rather, it's for people who do a lot of writing in Markdown or HTML/XML formats. Open a document in Marked while you're composing your code in your favorite editor, and Marked shows an HTML-rendered preview of the document that's updated every time you save--you never have to wonder how your document will look when published. Marked can even take advantage of CSS templates so your preview looks much like it will on the target website. Marked also provides useful document statistics and readability metrics, along with a nifty visual-highlighting feature that helps you avoid word repetition. When you're done writing, you can quickly copy the document's generated HTML code or rendered rich text for pasting elsewhere. I loved Marked when I initially reviewed it early in 2012, and a subsequent major update added a bunch of useful new features, including automatically scrolling to the most-recent edit point, HTML-source view with syntax highlighting, and enhanced Scrivener support. Marked is a niche app, but it's my niche: I have a difficult time writing any more without a Marked preview open.

Mashduo (; free; website): Some Gems you'll likely use only once--but that one time, you thank the stars the appropriate one-trick pony exists. Mashduo is just such an app: It quickly compares two iTunes libraries and shows you which tracks are unique to each library. It's useful for seeing what new music a friend or family member has acquired that you might want to sample yourself (you can jump directly to a track's entry on the iTunes Store), but it's also great for reconciling differences between iTunes libraries on your own computers, and for recovering tracks from a failed data migration from, say, a Windows PC to a Mac. (Senior writer Lex Friedman claims Mashduo saved his marriage in just such a circumstance.)

Pacifist (): Originally a Mac Gem way back in 2004, Pacifist got a big update this year. The utility lets you view the contents of OS X installer packages (.pkg and .mpkg files), but it also lets you verify installations and even extract or install any file from within a package. New in version 3.1 are support for disk images and file archives, the capability to work with remotely stored packages, installer-receipt creation and searching, kernel-extension reports, and a Quick Look plug-in. Pacifist can be dangerous if you don't use it carefully, but it can also be an incredibly useful tool, especially for troubleshooting--there's nothing else like it.

Honorable mentions

A few other Gems didn't quite make the "favorites" cut but are still worth calling out. Various Macworld editors use these apps every day.

Display Menu (; free; Mac App Store link): Aimed at non-Retina Macs, this simple utility brings back the systemwide display-resolution menu that OS X 10.8 Mountain Lion eliminated. Yes, it wouldn't have earned even an honorable mention if Apple hadn't removed a useful feature from OS X, but if the number of times readers have requested a replacement for that feature is any indication, this was one of the most popular Gems of the year.

Due (; $10; website): Phocus's Due for iOS is a nifty timer/reminder app, and the company successfully brought the app to the Mac in 2012. Due for Mac retains the simplicity of the original app while effectively transitioning to the Mac's point-and-click environment.

PopClip (; $5; website): This utility brings iOS's text-processing popovers to OS X: Select some text, and you get options for working with that text. Depending on the app and context, those options include searching the Web for or defining the selected word or text; copying or pasting; spell-checking; (for email addresses) sending an email message; or (for Web URLs) opening your browser. Since my original review, PopClip has added support for extensions that let you extend the utility's functionality to perform many more--and more-complex--actions on selected text.

QuickRes (; free; website): Like Display Menu, QuickRes gives you a systemwide menu for switching your display resolution. But QuickRes is optimized for Retina-display Macs, as it lets you choose any of the resolutions that your Retina display supports--even the super-high-res native resolutions that the Displays pane of System Preferences doesn't offer as options. You can also designate your favorite resolutions and then cycle through them with a keyboard shortcut or mouse click.

Looking for more of the best affordable Mac software? Check out the best Gems of 2011 and the best Gems of 2010. You can also browse some of our older Gems lists: 2010's 10 must-install Gems, the 2009 list of all-time favs, the 2009 list of Gems I'm thankful for and the 2010 follow-up list of more Gems I'm thankful for. You can also follow Mac Gems on Twitter.

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